Apple Moves To Help Parents With A Small Change To Its App Store Ratings

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Apple made a small but important change to the way its mobile apps appear in the iTunes App Store, which will help parents better determine which applications and games are appropriate for their children. The company has relocated the age rating (e.g. 9+, 12+, etc.) by moving it up from its previous position at the bottom of the app’s detail page, so that it now appears directly beneath the app title and publisher.

Apple-watching blog Appleinsider spotted this problem today, remarking that the change comes after a couple of high-profile cases this year which had Apple pulling apps from its store due to inappropriate content. For instance, Twitter’s recently launched video-recording app accidentally began featuring a pornographic video as an “Editor’s Pick,” forcing Apple to pull the app from the App Store until the problem was resolved. Apple had also earlier faced a similar situation with the popular photo-sharing application 500px, which was also pulled while content issues were addressed.

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That’s not to say that either of these apps were aimed at children, however, but headlines referring to “porn in the App Store,” could have caught parents off guard. Apple has long since taken a stance that apps are reviewed and curated before approval, which is why problems like those mentioned above become sensational stories when that process breaks down. But it’s difficult for Apple or anyone to police applications in the social space, where content comes from users, not the app’s creator. Social services are known for their “adult” leanings, in fact.

Still, Apple making a slight tweak like this is an effort to address parents’ needs, which is a step in the right direction given how many children today are now using Apple devices of their own.

The company already offers some parental controls, but these are often ham-fisted, “on and off” buttons that turn off Apple’s default apps altogether, or prevent a younger child from using (12+ rated) Netflix, for example. It’s all or nothing, when it comes to these current parental controls – apps can’t be approved on a case-by-case basis via whitelisting or managed in any special “kid mode” type of interface.

So in reality, many parents forgo Apple’s imperfect controls and deal with app downloads on a one-off basis upon a child’s request. They glance at the app, read the description, look at the pictures and then either enter their password or refuse to do so. Having the ratings boosted higher here will help these parents make better decisions on the fly. But at the end of the day, it’s a bandage (or just a baby step forward, depending on your bias) for the larger problem that comes with putting Internet-enabled, app-running machines into children’s hands.

This problem has become an opportunity for startups to address in recent months. Companies have emerged to help parents find better apps to keep kids entertained (and learning), including KinderTown and YogiPlay, for example, while a new startup called AppCertain offers a “post-download” analysis of an app’s content, emailed to parents’ inboxes. There are also special browsers designed for restricting Internet access throughout Apple’s App Store. But today it’s still far easier to lock down smartphones and tablets running Android, using things like KytephonePlay SafeKid Mode, and others because of an Android app’s ability to deeply integrate with the Android operating system. The Kindle Fire also has a special kid mode, which is one of its bigger selling points outside of price.

People like to point fingers at parents, telling them it’s their problem to watch what their kids are doing and downloading on their devices, and that if a kid ends up viewing adult content, violence or anything else inappropriate, it’s their fault. That’s true of course, I suppose, but at least Apple understands the reality of everyday life – it’s messy, difficult, and exhausting to parent. People aren’t ever perfect, and everyone needs a little help. Especially mom and dad.

Image credit: AppleInsider